The Revolution and Evolution of Virtual Guitarist

By in Music Creation, Pro Mixing

UJAM Virtual Guitarist is the latest chapter in a story of a legendary rhythm guitar plugin that broke the rules in its 2002 introduction, then evolved and grew with the backing of some of the most prolific  magicians in digital music creation. The story winds from Malmö, Sweden to Hamburg, Germany, then takes a detour to Daly City, California before heading back to Bremen, Germany. From its inception until now, it remains an essential tool as, in its creators’ words, “the ultimate substitute for no guitar.”

Virtual Guitarist is part of UJAM’s mission to make music creation faster, better and easier than ever before.  Along with its sister products, Virtual Drummer,  Virtual Bassist, and Beatmaker, the plugin has a specific mission that it does exceptionally well.   Virtual Guitarist provides musical foundations that everyone from hobbyists to professionals use to build original, tailored tracks based on four original guitar models.   Complete with a variety of amp models and effects, they offer inspiring rhythmic and melodic textures that are finding their way into more and more music.  You can purchase the individual models or grab the whole bundle for the best value.   Here are the individual products:

 

  • IRON:  For hard and roaring power chords
  • AMBER: Warm and shiny strums
  • SPARKLE: Glamorous and shiny licks
  • SILK: Smooth and classy accompaniments

In a market crowded with virtual instrument plugins, Virtual Guitarist was a standout in its 2002 introduction at Musikmesse Frankfurt, and it has kept its edge.  It was the result of pioneering work done by a small collective of determined and brilliant people, among them some of my favorite former colleagues at Avid. One of them is UJAM founder Peter Gorges, who ran the company Wizoo (which, by the way, stands for “Wizard of Oscillators”). Peter had developed a virtual drum instrument for Steinberg called VST Drum Sessions  and was approached by Sven Bornemark, a bass player from Sweden, who proposed creating a similar product to record and play back guitars (a different challenge as it would not be as readily possible to work with guitar elements as REX files).   Sven hooked up with a brilliant developer named Paul Kellett, who was developing free VST instruments in his spare time and in short order, the group went to Steinberg to demonstrate what they had accomplished.  It was a day to remember, as Virtual Guitarist was set in motion, but the date was September 11, 2001.

Fast-forward to Musikmesse Frankfurt in 2002—Steinberg had already circulated press releases about Virtual Guitarist and the product was panned on the forums.  Peter Gorges said he knew then that they were on to something good! The showing at Musikmesse was the turning point where the concept was displayed live with jaws dropping as people immediately realized the power of Virtual Guitarist and its role as an in-house virtuoso that could help non-guitarists quickly add versatile guitars to their tracks.  Peter Gorges remarks, “I believe Virtual Guitarist did two things for the first time… you could lay down a guitar track using a keyboard in real-time, which was fun too, and even more important, it was real enough to be confused with the real thing. It wasn’t like there hadn’t been attempts to emulate guitar before.” And with that, Virtual Guitarist 1 was on its way to fantastic success and sustained huge sales. Peter found out that half of the users were, in fact, guitarists who relied on it to lay down guitar tracks faster. The other eye-opener was that legendary composers like Hans Zimmer used Virtual Guitarist to lay down musical foundations for their tracks (and Hans Zimmer has no trouble hiring whatever session guitarist he likes)!

Original Steinberg Virtual Guitarist, 2003

As Virtual Guitarist evolved, Peter and his team had developed tons of other synth and sample-based virtual instruments at Wizoo.  They sold a pair of reverbs under the name “WizooVerb,” and offered Latigo and Darbuka, a Latin and Middle Eastern duet of virtual drum instruments that kicked ass.  And as Wizoo was working on this, they operated offices in Bremen and Köln, Germany to develop a sprawling array of synth and sample-based virtual instruments.  As all of this was happening, a company called Avid was on the hunt for an integrated sampler, a virtual drum instrument and an entry-level player plugin to include with Pro Tools. In 2005, Avid acquired Wizoo and renamed them the AIR instrument division (which stood for “Advanced Instrument Research”).

While the AIR virtual Instruments like Structure (an integrated sampler), Strike (a virtual drummer), Hybrid (a cool synth) and Xpand (the entry-level player) helped to differentiate Pro Tools, the notion of a “Virtual Guitarist 3” never got traction within Avid. The company was focused on other priorities and I’m sure that the AIR team was anxious about missing this opportunity.

Screenshot of Steinberg Virtual Guitarist Electric Edition, 2004. The amp sounds were baked into the samples, so things were not quite as flexible!

In 2009, Peter, Paul and the rest of this talented gang had set off on their own to establish the leading virtual instrument provider we know as UJAM. Their mission is as before: to help musicians get musical creation accomplished easily and quickly, without the need for deep engineering skills and without sacrificing an ounce of quality and variety.

While Virtual Guitarist didn’t blossom during the Avid portion of the path, it is great to see it emerge in its new form, with four outstanding guitar emulations built with the greatest attention to modeling and musicality, and with valuable effects on board. The Virtual Bassist and Virtual Drummer instruments are all build in the same spirit and are every bit as musically powerful and fun to use.  They are all for sale today on the Avid Marketplace.

Steinberg Virtual Guitarist Electric Edition, 2004, from the prehistoric times of software in cardboard boxes.

In closing, I want to say that I wish I had the chance to work with Peter, Paul, Wolfram, Axel and others forever.  They were a blast to work with and be with while they were at Avid.  It’s great to see them enjoying success so wide and tall and I can’t wait to see what they do next.

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